Taliban suspends U.S. talks as Karzai demands NATO troop pullback
REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- The Taliban movement announced Thursday that it was suspending dialogue with the United States, and President Hamid Karzai demanded that NATO troops pull back to major bases and accelerate Afghan responsibility for safeguarding the country.
The Taliban statement, posted on its website and emailed to journalists, represented a major blow to hopes for a negotiated end to the 10-year war.
The group's leadership blamed a U.S. representative for presenting conditions that were "unacceptable" and "in contradiction with earlier agreed-upon points." It did not specify what those conditions were, but said the movement was "compelled to suspend all dialogue with the Americans."
Three months ago, the Taliban had announced readiness to open an office in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar to try to reach an understanding with the United States. The move was seen as a prelude to eventual negotiations.
The statement did not refer to recent incidents that triggered threats and denunciations from the Taliban -- the burning of copies of the Koran at a U.S. base last month, which American officials have described as an accident, and Sunday's shooting of 16 civilians in Kandahar province, allegedly by a U.S. Army sergeant.
The Taliban statement also said that it was pointless to engage in any contacts with Karzai's government.
Karzai's demand for a retreat to major bases and an end to operations in rural areas appeared to be in response to Sunday's shooting rampage, which took place in two tiny villages not far from a U.S.-run base in Kandahar province. Karzai's office said he had conveyed the demand to visiting Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.
He also called for moving forward by a year -- to the end of 2013 -- the target date for Afghan forces to take responsibility for safeguarding the country.
-- Laura King
Photo: Former Taliban militants surrender weapons during a reconciliation ceremony earlier this month in Herat, Afghanistan. Jalil Rezayee / EPA